Monday, 6 June 2016

Blonde Poison, until June 11, 2016 ***1/2

By Gail Louw, by Strange Duck Productions 
The Lawler, Southbank Theatre, to June 11, 2016
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on June 2, 2016
Stars: ***1/2

 Review also published online at Herald Sun Arts and in print later. KH

Belinda Giblin in Blonde Poison

Seated in our comfortable lounge chairs, we may believe that we would make the moral choice if faced with the decision to collaborate with brutal tyrants to save our families and ourselves from torture or death, but would we?

Blonde Poison, by Gail Louw, is a monodrama based on the life of Stella Kübler (née Goldschlag), a beautiful, blond and indulged German Jewess who collaborated with the Gestapo in Berlin in World War II by informing on Jews who subsequently went to death camps.

Dressed in a stylish, black frock, Belinda Giblin is elegant and handsome as the 71-year old Kübler as she shifts the character from ecstatic, self-congratulatory reminiscences about her younger self to anxious defensiveness and defiant justification of her reprehensible, past actions.

Shuttered in an old-fashioned living room (designer Derrick Cox) with only stuffed toys and photos of her doting parents for company, Giblin’s Kübler intermittently garners sympathy for the torture she suffered, her decade in prison, the loss of her baby daughter who now hates her and her current loneliness.

However, any sympathy vaporises when she gloats over her betrayal of Jews, revels in their desperate plight, aligns herself with the Nazis and reveals her seething anti-semitism.

She fondly recalls her first husband, another unusually blonde Jew, talks nostalgically of her Art School days and nude modelling, her numerous lovers and her irresistible beauty.

She jubilantly lists the advantages she gained from her Nazi collaboration that left her unwilling to abandon her role as snitch even when she could no longer save her parents from the camps.

In Jennifer Hagan’s production, Giblin as Kübler becomes more unstable and fearful as the clock ticks away the hours leading up to her unwelcome interview with an old journalist, a Jew Kübler knew as a child and who escaped Berlin before the war.

Giblin plays the character with a persistent, nervy edginess that captures Kübler’s instability, but this keeps her voice in a heightened upper register that limits the dynamic range of the performance.

Gail Louw’s script reveals Kübler’s intense, treacherous life through memories and stories that she tells to her parents, her husbands and to the soon-to-arrive journalist, or in flashes from the past when she faces a Gestapo torturer, begs for her life or betrays a Jew in the street.

Louw’s text is dense and Hagan’s production craves periods of silence and stillness to provide a dramatic balance to the wordiness.

This is a conventional monodrama that explores a tragic historical period through the eyes of a woman who is guilty of atrocities against her own people and this creates an intense piece of theatre.

By Kate Herbert

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